Good breathing entails maximizing oxygen intake, whether during rest and relaxation or during exertion and exercise. When people breathe in, they take in oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Oxygen is essential for respiration (the process by which the body creates energy). The best type of breathing involves inhaling – and exhaling – through the nose and taking air deep into the lungs so that the thorax expands and the diaphragm, a large, dome-shaped muscle below the lungs, flattens out and moves down. This is sometimes referred to as diaphragmatic-abdominal breathing (as opposed to upper-chest breathing). Breathing in this way facilitates the delivery of oxygen to all the body’s tissues and organs, including the brain.
The benefits of good breathing
People with good breathing habits generally have more energy, better concentration and are more likely to think quickly and positively than those who take quick, uneven, shallow breaths. They are also likely to feel calmer. Because of its relaxing effect, good breathing can help to tackle anxiety, stress and depression.
Breathing during exercise
Correct breathing is an important – but often neglected – part of exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, when the body needs an increased supply of oxygen. Oxygen is one of the vital ingredients used during respiration to create energy, which enables movement. The breathing rate speeds up during exercise, but the emphasis should be on even breathing and exhaling each breath before taking a new one. A person should try to breathe as deeply as he can, but deep abdominal breathing may be difficult to achieve unless a person is extremely fit. Breathing should be in rhythm with the movements of aerobic exercise. During anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting, the timing of breathing is important – the outward breath should take place as force is exerted (a weight is lifted). Gasping for breath during exercise is a sign to stop immediately.
Unless people are habitually short of breath, they may not be aware of their breathing habits- it is an automatic process which they simply do not think about. Correct breathing is a skill that can be cultivated. Learning Yoga techniques is one way of improving breathing habits, but there are also basic techniques that can be self-taught. One of the simplest methods of improving breathing is to take a few minutes each day to practise deep diaphragmatic-abdominal breathing. Breathing exercises can be practised anywhere and are very useful in stressful situations. Another technique is to make in-breaths last for a count of three and out-breaths last for a count of four; many people do not empty their lungs fully when they exhale.